USGA's 'Heavyweight' group causing minor stir

By Jason SobelJune 11, 2014, 8:53 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Imagine this: You’re a professional golfer. Not one of the bigger stars of the game, but certainly one of the bigger players. Physically, that is.

But so what? Golf is a game for all shapes and sizes. Not everyone has washboard abs like Camilo Villegas or linebacker shoulders like Gary Woodland or Popeye-ish forearms like Paul Casey. Success isn’t determined by physical appearance.

And you’ve had your share of success. You’ve qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, the year’s second major championship. Just before the week starts, though, something happens.

That major championship makes fun of you.

The USGA has a long-standing tradition of grouping like-minded players. Old guys. Young guys. Winners of the same event. Residents of the same state. Even players whose names sound similar.

It’s a fun little custom. This week, though, a proverbial line might have been crossed.

In the 1:14 p.m. grouping off the 10th tee on Thursday will be the trio of Brendon de Jonge, Shane Lowry and Kevin Stadler.

Or as Stadler’s caddie, Shannon Wallis, calls ‘em: “The Heavyweights.”

Officially, they are listed respectively at 230, 225 and 250 pounds – more than one-third of a ton of golfers.

“When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed,” said Lowry, who points out that he’s lost about 18 pounds in the past six months. “I think it’s very cheeky of the USGA to do what they’ve done. I don’t think it’s fair to the three of us. It’s a mockery, to be honest.”

This isn't a serious injustice. It isn't a breach of protocol. It doesn't disrupt the competitive balance of the tournament.

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It's just kind of rude.

“I think the USGA is a little mean and insensitive, but that’s just the way it goes,” Stadler insisted. “They’re invoking their 5-year-old sense of humor.”

From the USGA’s perspective, the tradition of producing these groupings is simply a unique part of U.S. Open ritual.

“There are some themes, you know,” said Jeff Hall, the organization’s managing director of rules and competitions. “There’s a fair amount of leeway.”

There were also plenty of other options for de Jonge, Lowry and Stadler.

When asked why those three competitors were grouped together, Hall responded, “I’ve got to be careful. We have some fun.”

He allowed that it is the USGA’s goal to keep players with those of similar abilities and past success.

Suggesting that might have been the primary motivation for this grouping, he said, “It certainly wasn’t the case that we were trying to do anything. But if you look at the three, they’re all pretty comparable as far as the world rankings.”

For the record, Stadler is ranked the highest at 59, followed by Lowry at 71 and de Jonge at 80.

However, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

The last time Stadler competed in the U.S. Open, back in 2006 at Winged Foot, he was grouped alongside Tim Herron and Carl Pettersson – not exactly a pair of gym rats.

“I was kind of expecting it, honestly,” he said of this week’s playing partners, “just because they did it last time.”

Of the three, Lowry was clearly most annoyed by the USGA’s decision.

“They’ve obviously paired the three of us together for a certain reason,” he maintained. “I’ve been working hard on my fitness most of the year. I’ve been getting a few digs here and there on social media and it’s just not nice. But I’ve had that most of my life. I don’t really care what people think, other than my close friends and family.”

In just his sixth career major and second U.S. Open appearance, Lowry is hoping to find the leaderboard for multiple reasons – but one is so that he can bring attention to this USGA decision.

“I’d like to do well this week, because I’ll make a point about saying something,” he said. “I’m not going to make any excuses if I don’t. I was pretty annoyed when I saw it.”

At some point on Thursday, the three big fellas are likely to walk down a fairway and discuss why they were grouped together.

At least one of them will be laughing.

“I was actually pretty amused by it,” de Jonge said with a smile. “I wasn’t offended at all.”

Maybe it’s not offensive. And it’s certainly not illegal.

It’s just kind of rude.

Even if the players involved aren’t going to worry too much about it.

“I don’t care,” Stadler insisted. “It’s not like I don’t pretend that I’m not a fat-ass.”

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”